Sun, Dec 12, 2004 - Page 24 News List

NCAA fails in promotional efforts

By Wendell Barnhouse  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , FORT WORTH, TEXAS

The college basketball season has been under way for about a month.

What's that, you say? You haven't noticed?

When it comes to getting attention in November and December, college hoops struggles to stand out in the sports crowd.

This year it's particularly difficult. The news and the sports talk shows are filled with talk about the Bowl Championship Series, steroids and NBA fisticuffs.

Until late February starts the drumbeat for March Madness, college basketball suffers from a national identity crisis. Sure, the occasional Duke-North Carolina or Kansas-Texas matchup creates a buzz, but most of the noise is confined to the local and regional level.

The folks in charge of college athletics appear to be OK with that. The NCAA has in fact passed legislation that has limted the number of types of early season events that once got attention.

One of the best events that was lost because of the new rules was the Great Eight.

Held in Chicago in early December, the two-night event brought eight teams (if possible, the eight regional finalists from the previous season) together for four games at the United Center.

The games tended to be the kind of heavyweight matchups -- Arizona versus Kansas, Duke versus Connecticut -- rarely played in the nonconference season. Plus, the matchups were set ahead of time.

The Great Eight went away because the NCAA limited the number of times a team could play in an "exempt" event over a four-year period.

(Exempt games don't count toward the total number of games a team can schedule for a season.)

There remain events such as this week's Coaches vs. Cancer Classic, the Preseason NIT, the Guardians Classic, the Maui Classic and the Great Alaska Shootout. But teams still are limited in the number of times they can participate in those events.

Instead of playing in events in which their teams help produce revenue to the groups staging the event, most major schools prefer to play home games. And typically the games are "payday" games scheduled against inferior visiting teams.

One solution might be a start date or dates for the season. Practice starts on a prescribed day, so why not have most of the 320 teams start their season on a designated date?

College basketball tends to be its own worst enemy. A wise man once said, "A terrible thing happens when you promote nothing."

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